The COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse effect in all aspects of life. Public health departments have been extensively promoting the importance of hand hygiene and the need to wash hands frequently in order to ‘flatten the curve’. According to a think tank in New Delhi, 20-40 liters of water is used per person for this purpose with the assumption that one would wash their hands at least 10 times a day.
However, the lack of access to clean and safe water has been hindering these efforts. Nearly, 163 million people in India lack access to clean water. It is estimated that 600 million people experience water shortage and nearly 200,000 die every year due to inadequate or unsafe access to water. On the other hand, the heightened need for washing hands and growing dependency on water tankers have further aggravated the water crisis in the country.
People who lack access to safe water and sanitation become particularly vulnerable to this virus. Even households with access to basic piped water have been raising concerns on the erratic and inefficient nature of supply. The series of lockdowns has currently impacted the water infrastructure with units working at a limited capacity.
Intelligent water solutions to be the ‘new normal’
The post pandemic world is going to witness an increased emphasis on digital solutions and transformation across industries. Digital technologies can become a key differentiator by improving adaptability and resilience towards such crises in the future.
Intelligent water solutions can be used to bridge the growing gap between water supply and demand. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data are currently the frontrunners of these solutions.
Improving water availability and accessibility
Roughly, 80 per cent of India’s 1.35 billion population depend on groundwater for drinking, irrigation and other purposes. This dependency has crippled India’s groundwater levels. A study by NITI Aayog states that in 2012, groundwater could be found a few hundred feet below the surface in Bangalore. Today, groundwater in the city can be accessed only at 1,500 feet.
A technology driven intervention along with alternate avenues of water supply can alleviate the current stress on the groundwater. An increased emphasis on wastewater treatment at individual, organizational and community levels will ensure that water is used multiple times before it is deemed to be unfit for further use. Digital solutions can be used to increase speedy adoption and improve the efficiency of wastewater and treatment processes.
The potential of surface water solutions can be unlocked to improve water availability and accessibility. Surface water can be treated using UV-based technologies to remove impurities and convert it into clean drinking water. This water can be further distributed to remote locations which do not have access to an efficient or cost-effective water distribution system, using renewable energy. These intelligent solutions have proven to be successful in Asian and African countries that are facing drought like situations.
In addition to this, intelligent solar-based pumping solutions can provide access to regular water supply in remote or off-grid locations with unreliable power. These highly efficient pumps are primarily used for irrigation and ancillary purposes.
Provide real time data along with predictive maintenance
There has been an increased emphasis on data analytics in the recent years. The IoT uses sensors to collect real time date on the flow, temperature and pressure of water and create actionable insights that help the user.
These insights can help customers course correct whenever necessary. They will be able to understand if a certain part of their system needs repair or maintenance in order to reduce downtime. Predictive analysis and remote monitoring can also reduce the need for frequent on-site human intervention.
This kind of data analytics is particularly useful to detect water leakage in pipelines. Approximately, 40 per cent of India’s water distributed through pipelines are lost during transit. Pressure management is critical to reduce such leakages or ‘water hammers’. Sensor-based technology can be used to monitor this pressure and intelligently adapt to real time data.
Automate water infrastructure
Intelligent technologies can also be used to automate water and wastewater infrastructure and improve efficiency of processes. For example, Pune was the first city to deploy water meters. Such technology centric developments enable real time action and improve individual accountability.
IoT-enabled water distribution networks can further ensure monitoring at various stages to minimize water wastage. An automated system will also be able to send the water to various locations based on their water surplus or deficit levels. While an automated water infrastructure is the future, it requires planned investment, knowledge and technology transfers across levels.
Efficiency of intelligent pumps
Pumps currently account for 10 per cent of global electricity usage. Considering the impact of the water-energy nexus, intelligent solutions can manage varying demands while maximizing unprecedented levels of energy and water savings.
The new era of pumps is augmented with digital solutions such as AI, IoT and cloud connectivity to improve its agility and intelligent functions. They will be able to perform optimally for extended periods of time. This improves its operation and cost efficiency. The overall lifecycle is also extended as intelligent and efficient solutions consume lesser energy and can adapt to varying requirements and minimize wear and tear of the equipment.
As the country opens-up after the lockdown and companies resume operations, it is important to put the spotlight on the looming water crisis along with the fight against COVID-19. Intelligent water and wastewater technologies must be understood and adopted as an immediate next steps to strengthen the country’s water security.
The author is a General Manager with Grundfos. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK.